Can Recession Stop Rise of Populism? Examples of France and Spain

Olga Boznańska: Girl with chrysanthemums (1894) // Public domain

On April 24, 2022, Emmanuel Macron was announced the winner of the second round of the presidential elections in France. He won 58.44% of the vote, defeating his opponent Marine Le-Pen. Many experts believe that instead of Macron’s victory, we are dealing with a defeat for Le-Pen, which was due to three main factors:

  1. During the election campaign, and especially during the last election debate, the economic program presented by Marine Le-Pen was weak, full of generalities, and devoid of specificity. Typical mistake of a candidate who never held an office.
  2. The dependence of the Marine Le-Pen’s party, the National Rally, on funding by Russia and its Hungarian allies also proved problematic. More than EUR 30 million borrowed since 2014 from Russian banks and a loan of EUR 10.6 million granted this year by a financial institution close to Viktor Orban to finance the election campaign, prove its economic dependence.
  3. Her skepticism towards the Green Deal did not appeal to French voters, and although she abandoned the idea of ​​Frexit, the package of French EU reforms she was proposing would be a huge headache for Brussels.

Despite the defeat of Marine Le-Pen, it should be noted that it was the best result of the National Rally or Front in their history. However, the looming economic crisis and problems with inflation will motivate the French electorate to seek technocratic solutions, not simple populist recipes that work poorly in managing the country.

Let us take a look at Spain. The coalition that put Pedro Sanchez at the helm of the government includes the Socialist Party and the United We Can (Unidas Podemos) party, which brings together a mix of associations and minor parties, including communists, anti-capitalists, and Marxists. Since it does not have an absolute majority, it is forced to seek support from the minority parties of Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), which have a pro-independence agenda, and the Basque EU Bildu, i.e. the political representation of the former terrorist group ETA.

As Emmanuel Macron rightly pointed out during the debate before the second round of presidential elections in France, Spain has twice the inflation rate (9.8%) and the unemployment rate twice as high (12.6%) as France. Even though Nadia Calviño, a great economist and technocrat, serves as the government’s Vice-President for Economic Affairs, the need to satisfy the demands of her government partners makes the economic policy of the Spanish government disastrous for the future of the country, whose public debt is close to 130% of GDP.

In a polarized society where the votes are very divided, as evidenced by the 16 parties represented in the Spanish parliament, the figure of the new leader of the main opposition party, the center-right People’s Party, has emerged with force. Since its head was Miguel Angel Nuñez Feijoo, a longtime president of the Galician regional government, he has been gaining more and more favor in the polls, and his calm and professional tone, focused on problem solving, seems to make a strong impression on the Spaniards.

Personally, I think he has a real chance to rule on his own or with little support from another party. Why? He focused on talks about the economy, unemployment, and the future of Spain in Europe, ignoring the ideological and populist notions that emerge from the speeches of the current government or the ultra-conservative Vox party.

I have the impression that when we face serious problems, such as economic crises, the people, at least in France and Spain, prefer to leave the government in calmer hands – perhaps less charismatic, but better prepared to lead the country forward in such difficult times.

Populism has normalized and spread across Europe. Still, I hope and wish that its development will be hampered by the enormous demand for professionalism, knowledge, and experience, which is essential in right now and in the future.

Written by  Jorge Gimeno – Director of Atland Consulting, advisor on international relations, public funds, and key contacts. Representative of Pomeranian Employers for relations with European institutions

The article was originally published in Polish at:

Translated by dr Olga Łabendowicz

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